Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Search for a purpose: The first effort

One day I decided I could not live on any longer without a purpose. Unlike the ambitious lot, I do not have a long term purpose of making it big. This makes my daily existence solely and totally dependent on self decided short term purposes. Last year it was learning tennis, then making a football team. Lately time and extreme mobility don't offer me the luxury to pursue those dreams. But, I decided, things could not go on like this.

So after a great deal of thought and analysis (not resulting in getting myself psyched up for a change); I figured a way out. Getting back my reading habit and occupy myself with books. Then again, choice of books also presents another dilemma. Recommendations, highly rated, referenced, less famous works by favorite authors, popular, random picks from the bookshop; too much to decide. I decided to give this quest a direction too, inspired from the chase for the IMDb top 250 movies.

I researched for lists of most critically acclaimed novels and zeroed in on 2 of them: the TIME magazine list and the Modern Library list. I know the subjectivity of this method, but I figured out there was hardly any harm in reading a few famous books at the least. Snooty as it may sound.

The reading list was made by extracting the common books out of the two lists, consisting of 100 books each (thank you, my limited excel skills). That left 44 books in the common list. An initial assessment revealed that I had managed just 5 out of the 44, a figure reminiscent of my college maths marks. *Sniff*

You can find the lists in the Excel sheet here.

It was not easy to find those books too, in the priority order that I had made after reading a synopsis of each. However, I just managed to finish the first book in the quest and will put my reading experience and perspective in this space (I hate calling it review, hardly qualified to review such stuff).

The first book in this list was "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh.

It is indeed a strange experience to find an author come just short of trashing his own creation in the prologue and then go ahead and read the book. But, then, it also acts a disclaimer. When the writer himself, in retrospect, brands the language "rhetorical and ornamental" and the content focusing on splendors of the past and infused with gluttonous references to good food and wine, there is little you can add to that. And then there is the deep underlying theme of religion, which I have never come to appreciate much in literature or cinema.

All said and done, it was a wonderful book; probably because I could relate to the predicament (a judgmental word) of Sebastian, a dear friend of the protagonist and first person narrator Captain Charles Ryder. The book itself is written in retrospect, a drift down the memory lane triggered by a chance visit by a now captain in the army to a place he had been associated with all through his past. A place where he did not belong, but was always in awe of. A place where his blue blooded friend Sebastian belonged to, but chose to refer it as "a place where my family stays" rather than his own home. Brideshead.

The entire novel is the story of how Charles, an ordinary college going adolescent, gets acquainted to a prodigal and disillusioned Sebastian which leads to an initial infatuation with the royal life style. As Charles gets to know more of his friends reason for disillusionment, and erratic behavior in the front of the family, he himself finds himself distant from that world and in search of his own.

If the story centered around Sebastian and the reasons for his disengagement and disinterest, I would have liked the novel much more. Instead, in my opinion, it ends up presenting a most dishonest perspective of the narrator, probably intentionally so. The first person tone and assertiveness grew stronger towards the end, so much so that it presented the narrator as an unparalleled apostle of self righteousness and devoid of any human emotions and feeling. If such was the intention, then it was a perfect way to achieve it.

So much for this book. I have moved on to the next one, which I will discuss soon hopefully.

Much has happened in between, in terms of experiences and I must finish those unfinished drafts to have them in print. I'll get back to doing that then.


Steven Gerrard :D said...


Anonymous said...

Time to catch up on slacking reading lists *green eyed monster stirring within* makes for one lucky bugger, you :P
I was just randomly thinking - remember how we'd talked about nanoparticles in Biology once - your project or something...and it's funny/weird/nothing more than that I randomly remembered perhaps - there's a whole cool project with nanoparticles in my lab...and they are talked about like all the time...

crazed_mellow said...

oye yenseejay. u really need to change your template or something. It always shows popups.

Nice idea this. have recently read about 3 books on this list. So i guess my unguided, stumbling, deciding books my name method actually works :)

Read 'the heart is a lonely hunter' its really ossom.


Nikhil said...

[stevie g] thanks :)

[g] yeah, little in terms of options when you have to travel 2+2 hrs from gurgaon to noida daily *sigh*

yup, nano was the coolest thing back in IIT. So much so, they are having it as a separate department these days from a single room in the materials science department..seems they're still pretty cool..

(kash us time nano padh liya hota :D)

[kp] hey man, long time...

thought the pop ups would vanish once they realize there's isn't much profit staying on this blog, but the bugger won't go..and I can't figure a way out..this template was way too hard work to let it go..please bear :(

sure thing, this one goes up in the buying priority order then :)

btw another purpose I thought of was to learn to play guitar, but alas things aren't working out well...someday I'll beg on my own song though, I have that dream :)

vijit said...

Randomhouse has published two lists - one based on reader rankings and the other based on critic rankings. Which one did you use?

I started with this list sometime ago, started with Ulysses. Sadly, to much dismay, I realized I haven't yet acquired the intellectual grey matter to fathom, enjoy, revel in this treatise.

My book reading has been reduced to five minutes in the bathroom for a long time. Your post somehow convinced me to use my weekends on better things than crappy television shows. Thanks!

Nikhil said...

[vijit] critics one of course, a level of snobbishness must be maintained in compiling such lists :)

ah yes, I had the exact same experience with 'A Portrait of an artist as a young man', Joyce has that effect on you. I assured myself with the logic that Joyce must be the equivalent of the toughest engg. course which people outside that domain know is good, but incomprehensible (the lengths people go to justify *tch*)

yes, the better thing would be to read a synopsis of books on the list and see what suits...am liking the choices made that way..

vijit said...

Hmm.. good to know that the experirence of Joyce is not unique to me, you would never know that when you scoured internet for opinions.
By the way, you should try this book - Netherland, written by Joseph O Neil.
It isn't in any rankings list but is very contemporary and very well written. I dont think I have read another book which made the sport of cricket sound/feel as poetic as this one did. There are other things in its favor too...give it a try.

Sourabh said...

would you believe it..even i tried reading Ulysses :P
Mail me this list after removing Ulysses type classics (whatever!!)...I will have a look anyway.

vijit said...

Btw there is hardly any translated work in this list. A lot of amazing literature comes from Non English speaking world. I think these list makers excluded them entirely.

Vivek Syania said...

Good list!

Krishna said...

NCJ man. Long time. I just read The Great Gatsby. It was a nice read, I enjoyed it. But number 2 is pushing it yaar!

How is life btw?

Nikhil said...

[kris] hey!! life is ok, though the traveling is killing me..

come to delhi to watch an IPL match..to make up for the test that you missed :)